*Scroll to the bottom to get the PROs and CONs of the trip overall…Read this entry if you want a full outline of the jungle treks that leave from Chiang Mai.
If I closed my eyes, I felt like I was six years old again. I remember the guide telling my parents eighteen years ago, “She’s the youngest person ever we’ve had on an overnight trek to the village.” That was 18 years ago! Although I was so young, some of those memories of trekking through the jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand came back to me. I could replay the trip over and over in my head. I remember seeing the ants getting cooked on the barbecue after dinner, the noises and smells of the pigs as we slept over them…everything was slowly coming back to me. Since I had done this Chiang Mai jungle trek as a little girl I was SO anxious to get out and see if some of these childhood memories would come back to me. I was hoping being there again would trigger things I had forgotten and I was so excited to get back out into the jungle of Chiang Mai.
Booking the Trek:
The day before we wanted to go into the jungle, we checked out several different agencies for the best deal. We ventured around the touristy area of Chiang Mai in Old Town walking in and out of agencies one after the other. We knew we could find the best deal if we kept searching and negotiating. We decided to pass on the overnight option as time was a little bit of an issue for us. However, we wanted to do the butterfly/ orchid farm, visit a natural waterfall, raft down a river and ride elephants—disclaimer: we had no idea how bad riding elephants was before we signed up for this!***-Will talk more about this topic later. We searched around and to no surprise every travel agency was asking different prices. Most of them were offering the full day package for around 1000 Baht ($30) we knew we could do better. We finally stumbled into one agency where we met our lady, her name was “Mama.” We negotiated the price down to 800 Baht each (around $20). That’s around the average of what you should be paying.
The Chiang Mai Jungle Trek:
The morning rolled around way too quickly. The Muay Thai flight the night before had gotten a little out of hand..I couldn’t believe it was already eight am, really? Two Thai men picked us up at our guesthouse in an open truck taxi. There were eight of us on this trek with two Thai guides who spoke little to no English. It was definitely an interesting collection of people.
First up was the BUTTERFLY / ORCHID FARM:
I wouldn’t go as far to say it was anything like a farm. Granted, the orchids were beautiful and in full bloom, but unfortunately the butterfly farm was quite the disappointment as far as how many butterflies we actually saw. In Colorado, where it snows six months out of the year, we have butterfly farms that house thousands and thousands of butterflies. It seemed like there were about ten butterflies in this little old greenhouse.
While of course still beautiful, I was hoping to see more…but like I said, the flowers were great in themselves and the butterflies we DID see were magnificent.
Next up was the WATERFALL:
This was the best and worst part of the trek. You hike about ten minutes up to these waterfalls that have natural smoothed out water “slides” with a large watering hole at the bottom. The slides keep trickling down one into the other.
Our guide didn’t give us much instruction other than just to do it, slide down the rock. Great advice. The first slide didn’t even seem feasible to get down. It was a little grooved crack in the rock. It didn’t look like you could fit one leg in the slot let alone slide your entire body down it!
While we started to weigh our options if this was safe or not I impulsively jumped up to the top and just went for it. It was pretty insane. Although the sliding part was over in two seconds the scary part came next.
I splashed into the huge hole of what looked like black water, terrifying, but of course fun when it was all said and done. The highlight of the whole experience was coming out of the water and seeing a huge bullfrog right next to me floating upside down. I had killed a frog on the way down. Our Thai guide, wearing a cut off crop top, beer belly out, couldn’t stop laughing…He literally thought it was hilarious, maybe even the funniest thing he’s ever seen.
After the waterfall/natural water slide, we headed to the river to do some RAFTING:
The first part down the river was in a raft made of plastic. This took about for an hour maybe an hour and a half. The jungle surrounding us was truly serene. The water was crystal clear and the jungle looked untouched. This part of the trek brought back several 18 year old memories. As a little girl I remember the water being black and dirty…this was nothing like that. Maybe it was a different river because this one was so see-through and clear. For almost two hours we paddled, splashed each other and waved at children and families along the river.
Several Thai families were lounging and fishing on their bamboo decks just enjoying the afternoon sun. The best part about this stage of the trek was seeing the Thai people living out their lives so naturally. Parents were swimming in the river with their children, kids were having water fights and occasionally you’d see a baby elephant being walked around.
***This rafting part of the trek was fun, but could’ve been more fun. We went on this jungle trek during April of 2014…the water was extremely LOW. This resulting in a very slow and underwhelming rafting experience. There were many times our raft was stuck on the river bank and we had to physically push ourselves out of the sand…so for that reason this rafting experience seemed a little long and boring at times.
After the river rafting we hopped onto authentic thai bamboo rafts and rafted down the calmer part of the river for about twenty minutes. You can’t help but get wet during this stage of the trek because water seeps through the bamboo shoots no mater which way you sit. It was definitely a cool thing to do while in Thailand, a very interesting experience. I personally preferred this over the rafting. This only lasted about twenty minutes which was great after the two hour ride we had just endured on the plastic raft.
Finally after a long day of activities our guide told us we were going to eat! Aaaaa, foooooood, yes! We had a traditional tofu pad thai with pineapple. Not bad. Unfortunately drinks weren’t included. Straight from lunch we headed to the elephants…
The ELEPHANT part of trek:
We arrived at the elephant farm late in the afternoon. Two huge elephants were bathing in the nearby river while tens more were hanging out in the shade. At first sight, it looked like these elephants had it made.
Literally and figuratively. Their skin looked like they had been scratched and prodded for years, the skin was discolored and scarred all over. You could see the scratch marks all over them.
The smallest one in the group came walking around the corner wearing a massive metal chain around her foot. I immediately felt so bad for all of them.
We climbed to the top of this ladder and then loaded up on top of the smaller female elephant. Just even sitting on top of her made me cringe. The guide with his painted fingernails (ladyboy) would yell at her every ten steps. She wasn’t a big fan of walking, I wouldn’t be either if I had people sitting on my back. She liked to smell and investigate everything. It was so cute but our guide didn’t think so. He just kept yelling at her and scratching her with the sharp stick whenever she stopped. The entire time we were commenting on how doing this was a mistake. When it was all over it was a relief to climb down. We grabbed some bananas from the truck and fed them to her. It was the least we could do.
Our morale was low at this point. We had heard the bad things that happen to elephants but now we had witnessed it first hand. We not only witnessed it but we were partaking in it. No one really talked when we left the elephant park. Everyone kind of had the same idea and we all knew it was cruel. We drove a little out of the jungle and back on the way to the city. Our bodies were exhausted from being in the hot sun all day. Next stop, back to the hostel.
Final thoughts on jungle trek:
-Everything is included. You can have a day planned in the jungle while food and transportation is provided for you and you can pretty much just sit back and enjoy the day.
-The natural waterside was probably the coolest part. If you’re not afraid to try things that seem daunting this is a good idea for a day trip for you. The waterfall and the rafting it all pretty adventurous and fun.
-You can see the jungle in its entirety. Many people rent their own motorbikes and drive into the jungle on their own…although this is an option for anyone the trek allows you to see the jungle with no hassle of figuring out directions and or getting around/lost.
-For 800 Baht it was a good experience, minus the elephant riding. $20 is a pretty good deal for a day in the jungle filled with activities.
-You can do all of this stuff on your own: I believe certain people would enjoy doing some of these activities on their own at their own pace. Obviously it’s going to be hard to get your own raft on the river but there are plenty spots to drive up to and enjoy a little beach and the water on the creek.
-The day seemed to get a little long. Driving on your own into the jungle allows you to go at your own pace. Stopping at whatever waterfalls or jungle lookout spots you please. The rafting was what made the day very drawn out. If I had to change one thing other than not doing the elephant riding it would be taking out the river rafting part. The rafting seemed too long for our liking, but if it was a different time of year and there was more water, who’s to say it wouldn’t have been the time of our lives.
-The elephant riding was enough for me to never want to do this type of jungle trek again. The jungle was beautiful yes, but the animal part was really cringeworthy.